As Christians in the western world, we love to talk about serving around the world. I’ve done it, maybe you’ve done it, too. Simple words like “I’m going to serve the poorest of the poor” or “I am going to help these people who can’t help themselves.” Lately, I have been thinking about what that kind of attitude, over a long period of time, can do for people you want to help.
When we first started working in Haiti, we pulled out all the stops. It’s pretty easy to show pictures of rubble and people crying out for help. It was certainly easy for us to remind everyone on how Haiti is one of the poorest countries in the world, and how it is certainly the poorest in the western hemisphere. And, I will agree that it is important to know these facts, to a point.
From what I have seen, it might be just be what we do with these facts after we hear them. Letting them sink in, what do we do? Often times we go, with a good heart, mind you. But, often times our expectations cause us to act in a harmful and hurtful way to the very people we’d love to help.
So, western church, stop calling your sister fat.
If we are, as Christians, brothers and sisters in Christ, then what are we saying to our sister when we go? What are we saying when we talk to her? What are we doing to lift her up? Show her how beautiful she is?
In my family, we have a number of different personalities sitting at one dinner table. A brilliant, talented musician; a savvy, business minded guy with a heart of gold; a straight laced, fun loving guy… and it would be insane for me to tell one of them that they were less than me because they don’t do and live exactly how I live and do.
But, that’s what we do when we visit places like Haiti and begin “correcting” problems without knowing the culture; begin “preaching” when we don’t know where they stand on any kind of religious issues. Don’t get off the plane with glazed eyes and a scared heart. Don’t make comments about the culture, as if it is beneath you. Don’t comment on how “crazy the driving is” or how “weird the food is” or how “loud the people are”. Yes, Haitian culture is different than yours. But, its not worse. Please, stop. Process with another friend who isn’t Haitian, write in a journal. But, don’t just say these cutting words or develop these overarching plans without knowing much.
Because when all your sister hears is how fat she is, she starts to believe it.
Before you know it, our Haitian friends will stop believing they can make a difference themselves. They will start to believe it when you tell them that they need things different to their own culture. They will start to only look to you, because you’ve convinced them that you are the ones who hold the answers. They might begin to believe that your ideas are better than theirs, even though they are the ones who know their own culture and needs.
I encourage you, brothers and sisters, to continue to GO. But, go and see. Go and meet. Go and help your family over the world with the skills you can empower them with. Learn from them. Partner with them.
We are obviously still learning that we are not the be all, end all answer to the problems in Haiti. We are not perfect, and this is an ongoing discussion worth having. Let’s figure out how we can help places who might need a little encouragement without making them dependent on what you can bring.